Uncomfortable Scenes: White Bones by Graham Masterson

I’ve been reading White Bones by Graham Masterson.

It’s splendidly written, in that there’s conflict going on in each scene, and the stakes keep getting higher.  I’m not finished with it yet, but I had to note that I was uncomfortable with one of the scenes. (Well, more than just that one, but it’s horrifying, nevertheless.)  See, I’m okay with being with the main character (woman police detective trying to solve multiple murders of women) and her problems. She’s sympathetic and there’s some arcing going on, so that part is copacetic. But then Masterson pops us into the world of one of the victims, and I didn’t really like going there.  Not one bit.

I admired the writing that was horrifying me, but then, did I really need to be in the room as the victim was tortured and killed? That’s not for the feint of heart, and I guess I’m feint of heart. I don’t shy away from blood, or even exposed bones. That didn’t bother me when I was doing ski patrol. Deep cuts to the bone, no big deal, let’s get a butterfly on that and ship ’em off to the hospital.  No, I’m not grossed out by blood or guts. I’d be a lousy medic if I were.

I think it was the horror of knowing the victim was going to die and the detachment with which the murderer went about his actions of dismembering her while she was alive and conscious.  It was knowing that there was no hope, that this was going to be a throw-away character and why did you put me in her head, then? Thanks a lot, author.

If you have any doubt as to the existence of evil, scenes like this will change your mind.

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7 thoughts on “Uncomfortable Scenes: White Bones by Graham Masterson

  1. Uncomfortable scenes involving torture/rape/death are difficult to do well. I think there’s the impulse to go overboard because the writer wants to be saturated with how fucked up this antagonist or villain is. Maybe I’m jaded, but the “torture scene to show how evil the villain is” is overplayed. I mean, I get it that it would totally suck to be that victim, physical pain is awful and gets the empathy going in the reader/viewer, but I’m ready for some new takes on evil. You want to see the existence of evil, go sit in on family court and/or TROs at your local courthouse.

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    • I think we can get the awfulness of true evil through less evisceration and more… I dunno. In the old days, they’d cut that part out of the scene, sort of like how you never saw anyone go to bed together before the 60s. It was unnecessary. We can and did draw our own conclusions and we were happy with it. Now, it’s gotta be explicit. Is that the author being brave, or banal? Is the scene necessary? Does it move the story forward, or is it just soaking the reader in unnecessary blood?

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  2. I agree that a “torture scene to show how evil the villain is” is overplaying to the point of cartoonery. After all, we know that the ‘villain’ is ‘evil’ I suppose, and we know that the writer is dealing in cheap thrills to make us like a character solely for the purpose of making us feel bad when she suffers. It’s like how the dog always dies; trite and annoying. As for such scenes being inserted just to remind us that the ‘villain is evil,’ that’s a serious weakness: the antagonist must have motives and meanings and logic as strong as the protagonist’s, or else the book is just a Superman comic without illustrations.

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